Winston is the protagonist of the story, whose unsuccessful attempts at questioning and overthrowing the Party and Big Brother symbolize the defeat of humanity at the hands of socialism. Winston becomes de-humanized when his thoughts and emotions are controlled by the Party and when all his ambitions are snuffed by Party propaganda. He lives under the close eye of Party officials and the telescreen every moment of his life, so that he has to control even his facial expressions so as not to reveal his antagonistic thoughts.
His first act of rebellion is to start a diary - an act punishable by imprisonment and/or death in the eyes of the Party. Winston has been married, but his wife Katherine had been too indoctrinated into the Party for Winston's comfort, and so they have been separated for over a decade. His main trouble with the Party is their manipulation of history, and he greatly fears the moment when no one will have any memories of actual history, and will only know history as the Party wants to tell it.
He believes that O'Brien is in his same struggle from a short-lived glance that they exchanged one day, and this trust in O'Brien is Winston's ultimate undoing. He is enamored with Julia, since she is so young and because she likes sex for the pure joy of it (not like his wife), and he maintains his loyalty to her until the very end of his torture experience. Throughout his time questioning the Party, he still cannot understand "why" they are so repressive. He only gets the answer when he is being tortured by O'Brien, who tells him that the Party represses the people for the sake of power and power alone.
Winston has great hopes of a society without the oppressive Party, even though he knows that he will not be able to see it in his lifetime, but all these hopes are dashed when he is captured by the Thought Police. Julia She is Winston's mistress, who inspires Winston to live at his weakest moment by revealing that she is in love with him. They have a great affair, full of passionate sex and livid conversation about their future together, without Party interference.
She is more naive and pessimistic about the Party, however, believing that it will never be overthrown, just subverted. That is why, on the surface, Julia makes a big show of being completely loyal to the Party, when she commits many actions which deem her a heretic. When they are discovered by the Thought Police, she betrays Winston to them (Winston manages to hold out against betraying her for a very long time). She is a typical survivalist - she is not trying to overthrow the Party, only to satisfy her own sexual desires and fancies.
She does not concern herself too much with Winston's concerns about the longevity of history, saying that the real history does not really have much value. For example, when Winston complains that the Party did not really invent airplanes but just claims that it did to appear all-powerful, Julia says that it is of no importance who invented them, so long as they exist today. She falls in love with Winston, which is a big crime in the eyes of the Party, and they become too settled in their relationship, opening up themselves to be caught by letting their guards down.
O'Brien He is a member of the Inner Party, who dupes Winston and Julia into believing that he is affiliated with the secret Brotherhood, dedicated to overthrowing the Party. He tells them about the structure of the Brotherhood and how it is forever perpetual since the Brotherhood does not save its members from imprisonment and torture and since Brotherhood members operate virtually in the dark of who they are working for and with. O'Brien remains mysterious throughout the novel, with little personality or background information revealed to the reader.
O'Brien is the principal agent of Winston's torture, asking him to believe in the Party so that he can be cleaned and saved. He reveals a lot of the Party's motives to Winston while Winston is being tortured, and O'Brien even alludes to the fact that he also had to be cleansed by the Party to be the loyal member who Winston sees before him. O'Brien is the key reason why Winston becomes de-humanized, attacking Winston's belief that the human spirit will prevail and stripping from Winston all his humanity and self-respect.
Orwell was writing this novel in an age of totalitarianism, mainly in Spain, Germany, and the Soviet Union. The publication year also coincided with the establishment of the Communist Party in China in 1949. These governments had "iron curtains" around their populations, suppressing their freedoms and strictly controlling their actions. That is why the novel is overrun with ideas of hunger, forced labor, mass torture and imprisonment, and perpetual monitoring by the authorities.
Orwell had spent time in Spain during the peak of their Fascist regime as a correspondent for the BBC, and he was very disappointed with how that administration (which he initially had a great deal of faith in to assist the country) turned against its citizens. He felt their media was nothing more than a propaganda machine, hiding the truth and inflating half-truths to disillusion the masses. This is likely to be the reason why Winston Smith, the main character in 1984, also works for a media agency, since it is through his actions that the reader knows how deeply the Party affects and controls any public expression.
It is also Winston's exasperation with this manipulation which spurs on his rebellion to the Party. Orwell must have seen and strongly disproved of this manipulation in his own experiences. The novel is also set in a state of perpetual war, since Orwell was writing right after World War II, coming off the tails of World War I. (It is interesting how Orwell uses the slogan "War is peace" to describe the motives of the Party. see summary for Part Two, Chapter Nine) Orwell was able, in his travels, to see the experiences of the masses in Spain, Germany, and the Soviet Union, on which he bases the condition of the proles in the novel and the suffering expressed in Winston's childhood. Orwell creates a "dystopia" in the novel, which is the opposite of a "utopia," thereby establishing a model of what the world should NOT become. He is therefore suggesting the qualities of a utopia, which would be the opposite of the conditions found in Oceania, like ample food, freedom of expression, and self-determination.